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Man arrested for 'targeted' arson at home of Ukrainian pastor in Victoria

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Nearly one year after an arsonist attacked a Victoria priest's home while his wife and three children slept, a Nanaimo man is in police custody and charged with carrying out the attack.

Walter "Theo" Machinski was arrested Wednesday by major crime detectives in Victoria.

Investigators at the scene of the blaze at 1112 Caledonia Ave. on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (CTV News)

Investigators say the suspect is known to the victims and the attack was targeted but "not motivated by hatred towards an identifiable group."

Machinski, born in 1962, is facing one count of arson at an inhabited property in connection with a gasoline-fueled inferno that sent a family of five scrambling from their beds in the middle of the night on April 20, 2022.

In the hours after the blaze, Yuriy Vyshnevskyy, a Ukrainian Catholic church pastor, told CTV News that he awoke around 1 a.m. to his wife frantically calling out to him from the first floor of their home on Victoria's Caledonia Avenue.

Gasoline was being poured through the mail slot next to their front door, Vyshnevskyy said.

When he got to the bottom of the stairs to investigate, the fuel was set ablaze while the pastor's three daughters, ages 5, 7 and 11, were asleep upstairs.

The home belongs to the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, where Vyshnevskyy is the pastor.

According to church records and an interview Thursday with church president Alec Rossa, a Walter "Theo" Machinski served as the church's pastor prior to Vyshnevskyy taking over the role.

Machinski later moved to Nanaimo where he led another Catholic congregation before eventually leaving the church, Rossa said.

Firefighters were called to the two-storey heritage home at 1112 Caledonia Ave. at 1:15 a.m. and immediately found the mother clinging to a second-storey window as the house burned.

She had already passed two of her daughters through the window to their father below. The eldest daughter jumped from the window and later required stitches to heal lacerations from broken glass.

A mother, father and three children were all inside the home when the fire broke out.

All five family members were treated for smoke inhalation and their home, which is approximately two blocks from Victoria police headquarters, was significantly damaged.

The family's cat was found unresponsive but was later resuscitated by firefighters.

"Further details about this investigation cannot be shared at this time as the matter is now before the courts," Victoria police said in a statement Thursday.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress last year called on police to investigate the attack as a hate crime and suggested the arsonist could have been motivated by Vyshnevskyy's support for Ukraine amid Russia's invasion of the country.

Then B.C. premier John Horgan issued a statement of support for Vyshnevskyy and his family, saying the pastor had "been working to help Ukrainians fleeing violence, and I know the local community will rally around his family now."

Vyshnevskyy said Thursday he is grateful to the police who investigated the fire and protected his family "from potential threats and dangers following the arson attack."

"We wish to thank not only our church but the whole [Vancouver] Island community who have been so caring and concerned and helped us survive the effects of the attack and helped us get back on our feet again when we had nothing and were seriously hurt," the pastor said in a statement.

"It has been a difficult year," he added. "We thank God for our healing both physical and emotional and spiritual. And of course we pray for the person who committed this horrible act that they too find the healing and rehabilitation they are so in need of."

The susepct is scheduled to appear in provincial court Thursday evening.

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